UM System and South African university celebrate 30-year partnership

2 months 1 week 6 days ago September 27, 2016 Sep 27, 2016 Tuesday, September 27 2016 Tuesday, September 27, 2016 11:44:00 AM CDT in News
By: Jacob Kornhauser, KOMU 8 Reporter

COLUMBIA -- The University of Missouri System kicked off a week-long commemoration Tuesday of its now-30-year-old partnership with the University of the Western Cape in South Africa. 

The academic cooperation agreement, started in 1986, was the first between an American university and a non-white South African university. 

Travis Pringle, an MU law student who got to work in Cape Town over the summer, said the program motivated him to help kids from areas most people assume are dangerous.

"Just walking into a township isn't a death sentence. There are people who live there and who are trying to get by and trying to move up and Equal Education let me actually work in a community like that and actually give these students, who are taking a proactive role, making sure they get the education the Constitution guarantees them," Pringle said. 

Vuyiswa Tulelo, South Africa's Consul General, said it is the students from Missouri and South Africa who benefit the most from the program. 

"[Missouri students] come back and they can never be the same person again, because they find people who have nothing. They live in a little shack, and once they find out you are from the United States, they offer the last that they have. People from the United States are very inward-looking, so when students have gone to South Africa, they come back a completely different person," Tulelo said. 

"[South African students] think everybody from the United States is a superstar, but they come here and they meet real people and they find real problems that they face in South Africa and they realize the grass is not always greener. So, they work hard so they can empower themselves and go back home to empower and change the lives of their people," she said. 

According to the UM System, the aim of the partnership has been to promote teaching, research, and service between the two universities. UM Interim President Mike Middleton said it has done a great job giving those in the UM System a global perspective. 

"It provides us the opportunity to give our students and faculty some exposure to views of the world from a different perspective. I think that's extremely important as our globe continues to shrink," Middleton said. 

The program began, in part, to benefit the victims of the South African apartheid. It has spanned past the fall of that apartheid into South Africa's new democracy. 

UWC's Rector and Vice Chancellor Tyrone Pretorius, who is a product of the program himself, said the program has benefited both the people involved and the institutions. 

"Partnerships like this one are both very much a private good, which is a good for the individual, a benefit for the individual, but it's also an institutional benefit," Pretorius said. 

The partnership has resulted in a handful of medical research projects including: 

  • Research on the safety of indigenous South African plant species to treat problems ranging from the common cold to AIDS, which was funded by a $4.4 million grant from the National Center for Complimentary and Alternative Medicines 
  • Award to UMSL Director of Behavioral Neuroscience Rob Paul to study the impact of a specific protein defect in the genetic form of HIV

As part of the program, over 600 students have been able to participate in exchange visits between Cape Town and the UM System and collaborate on research. 

Based on the program's three-decade-long success, he sees it going far into the future. 

"By celebrating the past successes of the program, we are paving the way for future opportunities that are still to be discovered, which I know will certainly be celebrated in another 30 years," Middleton said. 

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